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November 22, 2005
Bad Child

I know there are a lot of problems that face our society today, not the least of which involve the growing acts of mindless violence of the next generation. But I just can't help but think that turning your children over to strangers to be abused is really a solution.

One night, a few months before his high school graduation, Charles King was awakened by strangers, handcuffed, and told he was being taken somewhere to get help. When his escorts released him, he found himself in another country, locked in a concrete compound, watching a dismal parade of shaved-headed youngsters marching silently in a line. King’s new home was Tranquility Bay in Jamaica, part of a network of behavior modification facilities tied to the Utah-based corporation World Wide Association Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS).

"You weren’t allowed to talk, you couldn’t call home to your family," recalled King, now in his mid-twenties. "You weren’t allowed to do anything, basically, without permission – and if you did, there were consequences."

"Consequences" is the term WWASPS facilities prefer instead of "punishment." Under a point system, participants theoretically earn privileges for following rules and suffer consequences for breaking them: completing intensive chores or sitting obediently through self-help "emotional growth" videos might after a few months earn a kid the prerogative to call home.

But King recalls the consequences more clearly than the rewards: spending days on end in detention, known as "observation placement," lying rigid with his face plastered to the floor, under the surveillance of domineering staff. Seared in his memory, and reported by other former detainees, are the frequent screams of boys and girls who endured special disciplinary sessions in isolation at the hands of staff.

This is child abuse and these are parents who should be facing charges.

The article goes on to talk about "tough love" (this is tough, but it's no kind of "love") and "behavior modification," which is just a polite way of saying, "brainwashing."

Nicki Bush, a psychology graduate student who interned at a rural residential treatment facility, said administrators convinced parents to sink their savings into behavioral treatment that their children supposedly needed. While many children did have serious psychological disorders, she observed it was not uncommon for kids to end up at the facility "because they were having sex with some 20-year-old guy, and [the parents] found a joint, or something like that."

Lest you think these are all parents at the ends of their ropes, dealing with long-term problems with their children. They're not.

Some people are very quick to label what is, whether you like it or not, common teenage behavior as some kind of dangerous psychological failing.

Bob Carter is convinced that a residential program in rural Utah transformed his son from an unruly teen into a responsible adult. He believes the program’s key feature is "a positive, conformist sort of element [....]"

That's the key for some of these parents, isn't it? "Conformist."

One wonders what their own early years were like, if they value "conformity" in an adolescent so highly.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:20 AM


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